FAMILY FOCUS: Innovative indoor farming helping Salvation Army Jax feed community’s most vulnerable

Jacksonville, FL. — There’s nothing like fresh food.

But it’s a luxury for many, especially if you live in a shelter.

Now thanks to the Salvation Army, that luxury is a little more accessible.

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Walk into the Salvation Army’s lobby and you’ll hear what sounds like a small waterfall.

Director Social Service Tami Gonyea pointed out the sound is coming from three towers blossoming with produce, they’re called aeroponic tower gardens.

“It’s great to grow our own fresh produce and be able to offer, both our residents as well as the community that we provide meals to, an opportunity to have fresh produce,” said Gonyea.

The harvest currently available at the shelter came with a lot of hard work.

“We learned what grows inside and what grows outside does not necessarily translate to growing inside, we had some plant deaths in the beginning,” she said.

Thanks to the to the help of Atlantic Beach Urban Farms they’ve gotten the hang of it.

“They do really well with the lights that you see right here, and these lights are on about 16 hours a day and they mimic natural light,” said Gonyea.

The towers can produce whole heads of lettuce that make their way down the hall to the kitchen and into their salad bar giving residents like Orville Crawford access to fresh food.

“Well I’m getting older, so I mean I need to eat a little healthier so that’s a good thing right there,” said Crawford.

Orville said it tastes great too and it’s not just healthier but less expensive too.

“What we pay to take care of these towers is about 50 percent of the market price of what we would pay if we were buying all of this produce from a vendor,” said Gonyea.

The indoor garden is only the beginning. Eventually the Salvation Army wants to bring the garden outside where the goal is to grow more produce like egg plants and peppers.

“I would love to have about 18 to 24 of them where the majority would be outside,” Gonyea.

Right now, the Salvation Army has four towers thanks to generous donations.

As they work to expand their garden, the locally grown herbs and greens will go a long way to enhancing the nutrition of those in our community who need it the most.

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The innovative farming technique is already planting the seed of hope.

It’s gone so well, the Salvation Army of Jacksonville said other Salvation Army locations across the country are looking to Jacksonville as a potential model for their own gardens.